The best of all possible worlds

Scientists need look no further for dark matter. It's our socks. (Photo credit  SeppVei via Wikimedia Commons)
Scientists need look no further for dark matter. It’s our socks. (Photo credit SeppVei via Wikimedia Commons)

Theoretical physicists have many ideas about how the cosmos came to be, but one of the most popular ones is the one which says that are an infinite number of universes, each of them different. There is, for example, our universe, another one where all your missing socks go, and one for your car keys.

The multiverse theory makes good science fiction fodder, but researchers really need look no further than the Internet for proof of the existence of worlds we can’t touch or smell.

Take, for example, the online game World of Warcraft. Here, players log on and take part in a sword and sorcery role playing game. In addition to being able to thump each other with a Hammer of the Naaru or a Multidimensional Sock, players can talk to each other, form guilds, go on raids together, chit chat and exchange messages. I bet some of them go like this:

Bolroth: Hey man, I see you’ve acquired new armour since our last encounter! [Casts spell]

DarkLord: Yes — this is the good stuff. [Swings axe] How’s the wife and kids?

Bolroth: Great! Jimmy’s just finished grade four. [Ducks, throws fireball]

DarkLord: Congrats! [Puts up shield, makes stabbing motion.] Sally starts high school this year.

Bolroth: [Dodging sword.] Time flies! [Throws lightning bolt. Waits.] Wow, dude, that armour was really conductive.

DarkLord: [Disintegrating into cinders] Next time, I am going to chop your head off, I swear. Say hi to Cindy for me, will you?

The game provides so much interactivity that many people have formed long lasting friendships with people they’ve never met in person. There are even reports of players holding weddings online. Yes, I’m talking orc and troll unions here.

One of the more fascinating aspects of World of Warcraft and other games like it is they have created entirely new and quite real economies. People have begun buying and selling “objects” from the games — things that will help you do better when you play, like weapons, or maps, or potions — for real money.

There are even people who make a living by playing the game, improving a character to a certain point, and then selling the character for real cash. Yes, you read that right, these people earn money by playing video games, making that reason number 4,758 why *your* day job sucks.

Then there are the hybrid universes — based in reality, but still completely virtual. A good example is Facebook.

As you know, Facebook is one of those now ubiquitous “social networking” sites that allows you to connect with people online. First you set up your own profile, and then add people you know to a “friends” list; they in turn set up their friends lists, putting you in touch with friends of friends… and so it goes.

This is one of those wildly popular phenomena that I did not understand until I signed up for it myself. My conclusion: the makers of Facebook have found a way to push an intoxicating gas through the Internet and out through your keyboard.

Okay, not really, but the site is incredibly addictive. Part of the fun is searching for people you know, or that you once knew. This is like having a high school reunion, but because it’s online, you don’t have to worry about how to lose the 30 lbs. you’ve gained in the intervening years. You can post only the most flattering [read: Photoshopped] pictures of yourself, and only connect with the people you’re most interested in.

But the key tool is the Status Update. That is, you can tell everyone in your friends list what you’re doing at any given moment, and the announcement appears in your friends’ news feeds.

Why would your friends care about your daily life? The truth is, they probably don’t. But *you* get to see your name in the news feed, and by telling the world (or a least this particular alternate universe) what you’re up to minute-by-minute, you can be your own paparazzi. This can be a most gratifying egotistical experience.

This must mean that there’s a little Paris Hilton in all of us. And that’s a scarier thought than an entire universe of missing socks.

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Green eggs and sp…

And we thought the paper stuff was bad... (Photo credit Dvortygirl via Wikimedia Commons)
And we thought the paper stuff was bad… (Photo credit Dvortygirl via Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this week, I left my computer unattended for nearly 24 hours. When I later logged into my email account, I expected to hear that annoyingly cheerful guy say: “You’ve got mail!” What he actually said is: “You’ve got 2,309 emails. Don’t you ever clean out your inbox?”

Okay, so 2,309 is a bit of an exaggeration. In truth, it was only 2,308. And if you’ve been an Internet user for more than, say, five minutes, I’m sure you can guess what 95% of it was: sp*m. Junk mail. Emails that need to be sorted directly into the ebucket. Tell me if you recognize any of these:

Wild Sexy [Fill In The Blank]: If you’re not an adult when you open your email box, you will be by the time you close it. So far this week, I’ve been offered a peek at straight sex, lesbian sex, gay sex, and yes, even goat sex.

Banned Cd! Banned Cd! No less than 22 people offered me a CD full of things my government doesn’t want me to know. Since I live in Canada, the only thing my government doesn’t want me to know is the secret recipe for maple syrup.

Urgent Business Proposal: Hello, I am Mbende Boruto (claiming to be from Nigeria/Uganda/Congo). My (father/brother) was (chieftain/king/grand poobah) until (evil doer took him out with military coup/machete/knitting needle). He bequeathed to me (a unbelievably large amount of money that amazingly is never in an African currency) but I cannot access it. I am asking you (and 5000 of your closest friends) in confidence to help me out — I need an account overseas. If I can transfer this amount into your account (even though I have no access to this money), I will be willing to give you 20%. I need this quickly, I have no money left for food or shelter (but can pay for a computer, email list and Internet account). Send me your account access information. Oh, and if you act now, I will also throw in the Brooklyn Bridge for just $19.99.

Legitimate, Honest Business: Any email that starts out by insisting that it is both legitimate and honest is almost certainly not.

[Fill In The Blank] Enlargement! Sadly, these emails only ever offer to enlarge the bits that I don’t own.

Legal Cable TV Descrambling: Strangely, I already have this product. Up north, we call it a cable TV subscription.

Bill Gates Email Tracking Program: Because Bill Gates clearly got to be a bazillionaire by giving money to complete strangers just because they forwarded an email to all 1700 of their online friends.

Virus Infection: I am sorry about this but I appear to have been infected by a virus and I think I may have spread it to everyone in my address book. Check your hard drive! If you have a file called windows.exe, delete it quick! It is the virus file. Don’t be surprised if you cannot restart your computer or if tech support laughs when you call.

What You Don’t Know About Me: One of 3400 variations of that questionnaire that teenagers forward to learn deep, meaningful things about each other like: Do u think Lance Bass iz cuter than Justin Timberlake? or Are u, like, into Coke, or Pepsee?

Party Horror Story: I am forwarding this as a warning to all party people. Do not leave your drink unattended! I just read a news story about someone who had been slipped drugs in his drink. He fell unconscious and woke up the next morning in a tub of ice water, missing a kidney! He had also lost a heart valve, several gall stones and a big toe. Astonishingly, he did not die of hypothermia after being in ice water for 8+ hours! But he could have, so beware!

Stop Goat Sexploitation: Because goats just aren’t getting paid enough for that sort of thing, darnit.

So, I don’t know about you, but on an average day, I receive 95 junk emails. This works out to 34,765 spam per year. If it takes me two seconds to delete one, then I spend 19 hours a year just deleting email.

Hmm.

Multiply that by what I think my hourly wage should be ($872/hr)… Hey! Somebody owes me $16,000 in lost productivity!

I think I’ll talk to my lawyer. That way, the next time I log onto my account, Mr. Happy Email guy will say “Your check is in the mail!”

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Get Smart

get_smart
Want a brain workout? Try a sudoku. Or maybe a couple of these babies. (Photo credit Piafheleco via Wikimedia Commons)

The good folks over at the BBC thought they had worked out a way to make us all smarter. In a television show called “Get Smarter in a Week,” they had several dozen volunteers follow a regimen which included eating better food, adding more physical activity to their routine, and most importantly, doing “brain exercises.”

They even produced a booklet, available online, describing the program. Rumour has it that a major publishing company approached them to produce a print version, but the British Broadcasting Corporation turned them down. Apparently, they objected to the likely title: IQ Boosting For Dummies.

I’m generally skeptical of things that promise simple fixes and amazing results. But I have to say I applaud the BBC just for trying. If the BBC’s show was designed to make us smarter, one has to wonder about the purpose of NBC’s “Celebrity Cooking Showdown,” or worse, ABC’s “Micro-Mini: I Didn’t Really Wet My Pants.”

And as it turns out, the show had some interesting results, with participants performing up to 40 percent better on tests. The neat thing is that the “mental exercises” didn’t involve pages of math drill or tedious lectures the use of glaze in pre-common era pottery. They were simple things that you can incorporate into your daily life.

For example, the show suggests that you try doing a Sudoku puzzle from time to time, or that you should memorize phone numbers instead of putting them into speed dial. It also suggests your brain functions can be improved by doing things like taking a shower with your eyes closed, or playing charades, although I have my doubts about these two recommendations. Showering with your eyes closed is a good way to get a concussion, and if acting were good for your brain, Hollywood would be full of geniuses.

The tasks, although they sound simple, are supposed to improve creativity, spatial awareness, memory and your word and number skills. If nothing else, the show got me thinking, and I believe I’ve come up with several more brain boosting exercises.

For a creativity boost, try locking yourself out of the house. There’s nothing quite like the challenge of trying to do a home invasion without A) Setting off the house alarm which calls all three branches of the emergency services to your door and B) Setting off the nosy neighbour alarm, which calls everyone else to your door.

A good way to boost your word skills is to leave loose change in your pants pocket, and then throw the pants in the laundry. When the change jams the washing machine pump so that it overheats into a blob of molten plastic, you’ll remember swear words you didn’t know you’d heard. As a bonus, this improves your spouse’s brain: he will improve his fine motor skills repairing it, and increase his memory function by not letting you forget it.

Moving house several times in a short period of time is another good one. Indeed, us mobile night owls are probably smarter than most, because when we tiptoe around the dark house at night, we have to remember exactly which living room we’re in, and exactly where we’ve put that shin-cracking coffee table this time.

Many people would argue that being a parent is the ultimate brain improvement exercise. For example, try explaining to your two-year-old why he can’t take everyone else’s red crayons at playgroup when the other boy’s mom allowed him to swipe all the blue ones. This is especially difficult to do when you’ve just realized she’s the one who cut you off in traffic and grabbed the parking spot you wanted.

I would argue that being a parent at the same time you’re running a business is even more challenging. One minute you might be on the phone with your bank manager, discussing the Japanese exchange rate; the next, you might be discussing the various characters on Dora the Explorer with your toddler.

I like to call such mental extremes brain shifting, and I hope it’s good for me.

However, I suspect my friends would tell you that it’s not and that really I stripped my gears long ago.

 

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